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Fri, 03.18.1932

The Pittsburgh Crawfords Baseball Team is Formed

The 1932 team

*On this date in 1932, we remember the Pittsburgh Crawfords.  They were one of the many Negro League Baseball teams in America. 

Known as the Craws, they were based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The team, previously known as the Crawford Colored Giants, was named after the Crawford Bath House, a recreation center in the Crawford neighborhood of Pittsburgh's Hill District. Gus Greenlee owned the Crawfords. During the mid-1930s, the Crawfords were among the strongest Negro league teams assembled.  The Crawfords began as an interracial team of local Hill District youth who played ball together in neighborhood sandlots. As the Hill District teams became more competitive and professionalized, lines of color were drawn.

The teams became formalized initially through the efforts of Bill Harris and Charles Teenie Harris (no relation), who managed teams that emerged from local Hill schools. Bill played with a team he later managed from McKelvey High School, while Teenie's team formed from the Watt School. Twice, the teams faced off, resulting in a marginal win for Teenie's team in both games, prompting the two managers to join forces, creating a predominantly Black team. Greenlee bought the team in 1931. Stepping into an organizational vacuum, as the major Black leagues of the 1920s, the Negro National League and the Eastern Colored League, had fallen apart late that year, Greenlee signed many of the top Black stars, including Satchel Paige.

The next year, 1932, Greenlee hired Hall of Famer Oscar Charleston as playing manager and added Josh Gibson, Judy Johnson, and Cool Papa Bell, along with other notable players, such as William Bell, Jimmie Crutchfield, Rap Dixon, Sam Bankhead, and Ted Radcliffe. Playing as an independent club, the Crawfords immediately established themselves as perhaps the best Black team in the United States.  The Crawfords played in the new Greenlee Field, one of the few parks built and owned by a Negro league team.  Paige and Gibson often unwound at the Crawford Grill, one of Black Pittsburgh's favorite night spots, where Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson entertained.   In 1933, Greenlee founded the Negro National League, with the Crawfords as charter members. The club narrowly lost the first-half title to the Chicago American Giants; both teams claimed the second-half title, and Greenlee awarded it to his Crawfords. The matter of the overall pennant was apparently never decided.

The next season, as Gibson led the league with 16 home runs and Paige won 20 games, the Crawfords were near the top of the overall standings but won neither half. Records of all games against league opponents, not just those considered official league games, show the Crawfords with far and away the best record for 1934.  In 1935, Paige skipped most of the NNL season to play for a semipro team in North Dakota. Despite his absence, the Crawfords finally lived up to their promise, taking the first-half title with a 26–6 record, then defeating the New York Cubans in a close seven-game series for their only undisputed NNL pennant. In retrospect, many historians consider this edition of the Crawfords to be the greatest Negro league team of all time, featuring the four Hall of Famers, plus left-handed pitcher Leroy Matlock, who won 18 games without a defeat.  

In 1937, Paige led several Crawfords players, including Gibson, Bell, and Bankhead, to the Dominican Republic to play for the dictator Rafael Trujillo's team. The Crawfords plunged to fifth place out of six teams with a 12–16 record. They partly recovered the next season, finishing third with a 24–16 record, but, except the 41-year-old Charleston, whose playing career was nearly over, the heart of the old Crawfords' team, Paige, Gibson, Bell, had all moved on to other teams.  The Crawfords attendance flatlined after the white members of the team's board forced Greenlee to shut out Blacks from jobs at Greenlee Field (ushers, ticket-takers, etc.). Greenlee sold the club, Greenlee Field was demolished, and the Crawfords moved to Toledo, becoming the Toledo Crawfords, for the 1939 season. Before folding, they moved to Indianapolis, becoming the Indianapolis Crawfords, for the 1940 season.



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